The Life of Riley

posted July 15th, 2008 by
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To look at this dog’s photo, you wouldn’t think he lives the Life of Riley, but he does.

Riley, the liver–spotted Dalmatian, has a team of devoted handlers—especially his owner, Tiffany Barnes Talley — that minister to his every need. The team includes two veterinarians who administer medicines, physical therapy, acupuncture, electrical stimulation and hydrotherapy and massage therapy.  Tiffany installed a pool for Riley so she can take over the hydrotherapy. She also performs much of the physical therapy and massage therapy.

Tiffany rescued, fostered, and then adopted Riley twelve years ago, through the Dalmatian Assistance League. He became her agility trained dog and her running buddy. Two years ago, Riley was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disorder that results in weakening of the rear legs and eventually leads to complete loss of function.

At first sight, Riley pulls at your heart. However, after watching him for a few minutes, you see that he doesn’t have any idea that anything is wrong. During his “interview,” he attempted to chase squirrels, befriend other dogs, and busy himself in the bushes. He can get going at a pretty good pace, especially downhill! 

Riley is in a custom harness/wheelchair which supports his hind end and legs. He wears custom fitted therapeutic shoes to keep his feet in a “natural” position so that they don’t turn under. The shoes also protect his  paws from injury while dragging on the ground. He pulls with his chest and front legs, which are very well developed.  Tiffany said that the minute Riley was fitted with his hind “legs,” he took off.  He knows how to back up and turn around. Sometimes Tiffany has to slow Riley down when he gets going too fast or help him go uphill. In the first few months of his diagnosis, Riley only used the wheelchair part time.

Paralyzed three times, Riley was rehabilitated back to full movement thanks to his rigorous schedule of physical therapy, acupressure, acupuncture and medical treatment. His fourth paralysis in 2007 left him with minimal control in his hind legs and now he must use the wheelchair whenever he is mobile

Karma might factor in Tiffany’s life with Degenerative Myelopathy and Dalmatians. Riley is her second dog with this disease.  Her first dog, Dominik, a black and white spotted Dalmatian, was diagnosed with DM at age eight, and died four years later. His treatments consisted of meds, movement therapy and acupuncture. Many of the treatments used today on Riley were not available two years ago. 

In the last several years, great strides have been made in the veterinary world in regard to these kinds of neurological diseases. 

Dr. Ronald Hooley, DVM, and CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner) at VCA Woodland South is building a facility to house a special underwater treadmill and rehab area for dogs like Riley. Dr. Heather Owen, DVM at VCA Woodland Central, treats Riley with acupuncture.  Elizabeth Rhodes, Registered Veterinary Technician at VCA Woodland South and certified in Canine Rehabilitation, helps with Electrical Stimulation and physical therapy.  Tiffany  also does his physical therapy, and his massage therapy.

Riley’s treatment is a full time job. It requires a huge emotional and physical commitment by Tiffany. She and her husband have created a “wheelchair friendly” home for Riley, removing furniture and carpets to make for easier access. She must exercise him several times a day in his wheel/harness. He can scoot around her yard and visit with her other dogs as long as someone is there to supervise. Occasionally, his hind legs become tangled and he must be re-adjusted. He eats and drinks from raised bowls. He also can do “his business” outside with some assistance. 

Dr. Hooley and Elizabeth outlined physical therapy treatments for Tiffany to provide at home. They include:

Standing and bearing weight

Walking with Tiffany’s aid, (no wheel chair)

Moving hind limbs in full range of motion

Standing, bearing weight and shifting his weight from one leg to another


Swimming at home (Tiffany puts Riley in a life jacket, and supports him while he swims)

Out of his wheelchair, Riley can stand for a few minutes, but he must be supported. Tiffany props him between her legs and lets him put weight on his hind legs. She also moves his back legs in a “walking” position while she supports him. When Riley sleeps and rests, he does so without his contraptions. He uses his upper body to move around.

Since Riley’s disease is degenerative, his extensive physical therapy is designed to maintain muscle strength and prevent further nerve degeneration.

Much of Riley’s treatment is due to Tiffany’s exhaustive research. She is also a Canine Behavior Consultant, so she is well versed in the world of dogs. You might call her Tulsa’s Dog Whisperer.

The most important message from Tiffany is for families to know that there is hope and treatment for dogs with degenerative disease or injury.  

Story by Sherri Goodall

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